Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Fruit Production
School develops way to keep veggies fresh


September 20, 2010
By Fruit & Vegetable

Topics

September 16, 2010 –
Middle Tennessee State University’s School of Agribusiness and Agriscience has
developed a sustainable, cool way to make the MTSU Farm’s harvest of vegetables
and fruits remain fresher longer.

September 16, 2010 –
Middle Tennessee State University’s School of Agribusiness and Agriscience has
developed a sustainable, cool way to make the MTSU Farm’s harvest of vegetables
and fruits remain fresher longer.

Two 10-foot-by-10-foot
air-conditioned walk-in packing sheds have been built on the approximately
450-acre farm property.

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With more crops being
harvested, the packing sheds are holding more produce, such as tomatoes,
lettuce, onions and watermelons, keeping them cooler – and fresher — for the
summer farm markets and again for the fall sale of harvested items from the
summer crops.

Wheels began turning when
Dr. Warren Gill, the department chair, worked with state Commissioner Ken
Givens to secure $34,300 in state agriculture enhancement money. MTSU’s Office
of Research and Sponsored Programs
then “matched it to help the student program
and allowed us to sponsor student research,” Gill said.

Daniel Messick, president
of the MTSU Plant and Soil Science Club, conceived a geothermal idea for the
packing sheds, making it more ecologically friendly, Gill said. Messick and
assistant professor Dr. Nate Phillips then collaborated on a $27,000 Clean
Energy Grant from the Division of Student Affairs to make the project happen.

“I did a lot of research
(about the geothermal method) and organized interviews (with prospective
companies),” said Messick, a junior ag-science major and environmental science
minor from Shelbyville, Tenn. “Dr. Phillips and I came together on the
proposal.”

“The student became the
teacher,” is how Gill summarizes Messick’s creative thinking.

“This is hands-on
learning,” said Tim Redd, MTSU’s Farm Lab director. “This is a student lab,
pure and simple.”

“It gives the students
more access to experiential learning – what they’ll see in their future
careers,” Phillips added.

The university contracted
with Precision Air Inc. of Murfreesboro to build the packing sheds and provide
the geothermal method: digging a 6.5-inch hole 300 feet into the ground
adjacent to the shop facility housing the packing sheds. It brings a constant
55-degree temperature to the cooling units.

“It’s 70 per cent more
efficient and doubled the lifespan of the cooling unit,” Messick said.

“This has been a great
experience,” Messick added. “It’s nice to have a part in something that’s going
to be here a long time. We have a more efficient way to sustain the cost on
running the unit.

Along with the dual
packing sheds, an adjacent “little white building – the original dairy,” Gill
said – houses a “four-unit packing line with a conveyor-fed brush washer,
sponge absorber and rotating packing table that can be used for a variety of
different vegetables, and has improved efficiency in preparing our produce for
the market,” Phillips said.